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As a born and bred American but now proudly a permanent New Zealand resident, I can honestly say this tiny island country near the bottom of the Pacific Ocean has won a special place in my heart. And I’m not the only one who thinks so!
Here are 10 reasons ‘my people’ love you New Zealand!
1) It is the ideal country for a newbie traveller
This wasn’t my first trip abroad, but it was my first trip as a solo traveller. I found New Zealand to be the perfect first foreign country to visit as an American striking out on her own for the first time. They speak English so you don’t have to worry about a language barrier. With its familiar elements of American and British culture mixed with distinctive Kiwi flare, I never felt like a complete outsider. Not to mention that New Zealanders themselves are incredibly friendly and usually more than willing to help if you find yourself struggling.
2) It’s the real Middle Earth
If you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, you know that the background scenery truly made those movies. Coming to New Zealand and seeing many of the filming locations in real life, you realise that those movies almost didn’t do the scenery justice. In particular, while travelling the South Island, each new day will bring you to a new place you think is the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen. Plus, you can visit the real Hobbiton Movie Set – even people who aren’t fans of the films will enjoy wandering amongst the hobbit holes and drinking a hobbit-sized pint at the Green Dragon.
3) Adventure is a way of life.
If you’re the adventurous type or think you might be, New Zealand is the country for you. After all, it’s the home of bungy jumping and Zorbing! You can skydive in some of the most stunning locations around the country. White water rafting is available on most rivers. Even if you don’t fancy throwing yourself off of or out of something, you can still push outside your own personal comfort zone. Horse trekking, caving, surfing, sea kayaking, scuba diving, even just hiking in the backcountry – everywhere you turn, there is an element of adventure!
4) The hiking is out of this world
From 20 minute jaunts to a waterfall to epic multi-day ‘tramps’, as Kiwis call them, there is a walk for you, no matter your fitness level or interest. You can discover hidden beaches on the short hike to Cathedral Cove or along the Abel Tasman track, one of NZ’s famous Great Walks. If you love mountains, check out the top one-day walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Instagram favourite Roys Peak in Wanaka or climb to Key Summit in Fiordland National Park. Lacing up your boots and walking is one of the best ways to see the real New Zealand!
5) Surf and sand to mountains and snow – all in one day
Growing up in a country where you could drive all day and still be staring at vast open prairie, there is something to be said for how quickly the landscape changes in New Zealand. No joke, you can spend the morning surfing along the black sand beaches of Raglan, drive about 4 hours inland and be skiing or snowboarding in the Tongariro National Park that afternoon. For a small country that’s roughly the same size as California, New Zealand packs plenty of punch.
6) There are no bad beaches
While I may be more of a mountain girl at heart, I can’t deny that New Zealand has some truly fantastic beaches. That’s to be expected from an island nation with 8,700 miles (14,000km) of coastline! Choose from any of the white sand beaches in the Bay of Islands, the Coromandel, and the East Cape on the North Island or check out the hidden coves and inlets of Abel Tasman National Park and Stewart Island in the south – you’re spoiled for choice, no matter where you go.
7) Seals and dolphins and whales – oh my!
All of that coastline means there’s also a big focus on the marine habitats and abundant wildlife just off shore. Kaikoura is the best place in the country to go on a whale watching tour to spot humpback and sperm whales, take a boat trip to swim with wild dolphins or look for wild seals sunning themselves on the rocks. While you could see aquatic wildlife almost anywhere, hot spots on the North Island to check out what’s swimming beneath the waves are the marine reserves in the Bays of Islands, Hahei and Auckland.
8) Maori cultural appreciation
From greeting someone with a friendly ‘kia ora’ to the All Blacks performing the Haka to the beautiful greenstone pendants you notice people wearing, you’ll see hints of Maori culture enmeshed in everyday life almost everywhere you turn. It’s well worth learning more about the Maori to really appreciate their role in New Zealand. Places like Kohutapu Lodge at Lake Aniwhenau will show you how Maori culture is being preserved and celebrated in a modern community, while Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua will give you an interactive demonstration of how New Zealand’s first settlers lived.
9) Diehard coffee culture
New Zealanders drink a lot of coffee and they take it very seriously. If you want the true Kiwi coffee drinking experience, ask for a flat white, which is a shot or two of espresso topped with velvety microfoam (it is nothing like the ‘flat whites’ you get at Starbucks). If you are a dedicated brewed coffee drinker, try a long black or an Americano, although both are still made with espresso. Whatever you do, don’t try the filter coffee and don’t ask for an iced coffee (unless you want something like a Frappuccino) – it’s not the same as back home!
10) Getting off the beaten track
There are spots in NZ with no cellphone or internet reception, and it’s not a bad thing! In fact, those are my favourite spots in the country. Tucked away in the heart of the North Island is a working sheep farm with an eco-conservation mission called Blue Duck Station, and down in the far corner of the South Island is Fiordland National Park, home to the mind blowing Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. The best thing is you can literally get away from it all and escape into these places where your phone isn’t dinging away and you can really focus on the gobsmacking beauty around you. Just tell your mom she won’t hear from you for a few days and embrace the digital detox!
When it comes to getting around, a US driver’s license is valid for car hire in New Zealand, but I preferred spending my time watching all that amazing scenery through the window without worrying about keeping to the left side of the road and how much gas costs. A hop-on, hop-off bus pass was the perfect solution that allowed me flexibility to tailor my trip based on what I wanted to do and meet other cool travellers who shared my love of hiking, hobbits and coffee. Stray New Zealand focuses on getting off the beaten track and offers both flexible hop-on, hop-off bus passes that are valid for up to a year and small group fixed tours for those on more restricted time schedules.